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Film Review for August 10th
Songcatcher and The Closet
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Two films currently playing at the Nickleodeon (one of them also at Lighthouse Cinemas) deal with homosexuality in interesting ways:  The Closet, directed by Francis Veber, who also directed La Cage aux Folles; and Songcatcher, directed by Maggie Greenwald, who has also directed other films with lesbian-inflected themes:  The Ballad of Little Jo and the made-for-TV movie What Makes a Family.  

The Closet is a hilarious French comedy starring a bunch of famous and skilled actors:  Daniel Auteuil as the protagonist François, Gérard Depardieu as a closeted homophobe, and Thierry Lhermitte as Guillaume, an older man who helps François create the scheme that gets him his job back.  The French really know how to create characters, and in the very short space of 90 minutes, you feel you know something about the inner lives of the people in this movie. François, an accountant, gets fired partly because he is completely unremarkable.  Itís why his wife leaves him too, and why his son shows no interest in spending time with him. Guillaume, who moves in to the apartment next door, helps him fabricate a plan to get his job back:  they anonymously circulate a doctored photograph of François in chaps at a gay leather bar.  This makes the guy interesting and it makes the company where he works paranoid that people will think he was fired because he was gay, so they hire him back (later we learn that itís a company that manufactures latex products, including, of course, condoms).  So itís a satire that reverses the premises of workplace discrimination by making political correctness a primary market concern.  Itís savvy too, because it reveals how capitalism constructs ďgayĒ as a powerful consumer group. The movie is flawed in some of the ways that The Birdcage was, because it uses its PC theme as an excuse to trot out every derogatory French word for homosexual in the book while also allowing straight and homophobic characters to dwell on what bothers straight people so much about gays.  But itís smart too and moving, and it ultimately allows its protagonist to declare that he learned how to be a man by pretending to be gay.  

Songcatcher is about a turn-of-the-century folk musicologist, Dr. Lily Penleric, who, upon being denied promotion to full professor by her university, goes to North Carolina to join her sister who teaches in a community school for the children of the Appalachian rural poor. Janet McTeer does a great job of portraying an uptight insensitive academic who is nevertheless an ambitious and utterly serious intellectual, and who gradually warms to her environment and the people around her. Most of all, she convincingly portrays the musicologistís love of  her subject matter and her conviction about its importance.  Thereís a lot wrong with this movie, mostly because it replays all the colonialist clichés. You keep being impatient about the way the professor insists on the importance of the music while taking forever to acknowledge that these are real people with real lives. And thereís a character that teaches her that lesson, the hostile native so to speak, who of course, turns out to have the hots for her (thatís Aidan Quinn, who plays Tom Bledsoe).  But the music is incredible and the movie rightly foregrounds it by having it performed by folksingers who themselves have a reverence for the tradition. Itís a kind of O Brother with a feminist (and white) twist, since most the music is performed by women. The remarkable thing about the lesbian subplot here is that it is incidental to the movie, and although it is the cause of the major event in the story, it is not THE subject matter of the entire film.  Itís heartening to see that itís possible now to have films where being gay is only part of the story.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero 2001